Friday, March 6, 2020

Green Phoenix - Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark Review

Raiders of the Lost Ark.jpgGrowing up, I had three great passions. Each of these passions was born out of a piece of media.

The first of my passions was Paleontology. Born of my love of the Jurassic Park franchise, I absolutely adored dinosaurs and desired to learn everything about them. I once even challenged a paleontology major college student (my second grade teacher's son) to a dinosaur naming contest and won.

My second passion was Astronomy. I adored stories of space travel and exploration. Star Trek and Star Wars captivated my childhood and has continued to form a core to my futurist tendencies.

My third passion was Archaeology. And given the title of this article, you can probably imagine which series influenced this passion. The Indiana Jones franchise built a love of history and alternate history that has only grown stronger as my knowledge of history grew with my education. Until I was in High School, there was a genuine part of me that wanted to go into archaeology as a profession.

Naturally, my dislike of busywork and the realities of being an archaeology teacher or museum curator (the only profitable jobs that an archaeology major could reasonably acquire) nipped much of that in the bud. But the love and appreciation for this film remained, especially as my passion turned to film-making and I learned the history of some of my favorite childhood films.

Like how Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark was a collaborative passion project between George Lucas, the director and creator of Star Wars, and Steven Spielberg, the director and force behind...basically the best films of the 1980s and 1990s. Much like Star Wars was inspired by George Lucas' love of Flash Gordon sci-fi serials, Indiana Jones was inspired by the treaure hunter and explorers of 1930s and 40s serials, as well as the romance and danger of characters like Alan Quartermain and James Bond.

Lucas wrote the initial draft, then called The Adventures of Indiana Smith. but shelved the idea for many years, as the means and method to create such a series of films were outside of his capacity. Initially wanting Clint Eastwood for the role of Indiana Jones, prior commitments on Eastwood's part to the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, and the development of The Empire Strikes Back being shifted to a different director to Lucas, would see Lucas and Spielberg team up with Harrison Ford to bring a brand new adventure franchise to life.

To phenomenal success. It is no exaggeration to state that the Indiana Jones franchise fundamentally shifted much of the public perception around adventure blockbusters and even the archaeological profession. Just as Star Trek and Star Wars inspired astronomers and Jurassic Park inspired paleontologists, Indiana Jones has become the benchmark for future archaeologists.

And for very good reason.

  • Directed by Steven Spielberg
  • Produced by Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 115 Minutes



In 1936, American archaeologist Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr. is hired by the American government to uncover the truth behind recent intelligence information which suggests that Nazi Germany has found a way to learn the location of the legendary Ark of the Covenant, a powerful Biblical artifact that was said to hold fantastic and dangerous powers.

In order to keep the Ark out of the hands of the Nazis, Indiana Jones must travel the world and team up with his old flame, Marion Ravenwood and overcome numerous challenges, both human and natural, to uncover and secure the Lost Ark.



This movie is amazing and an unrivaled adventure classic!

I don't feel like saying that is all that controversial. I've seen folks who perhaps don't care for Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I've never seen anyone who outright hated it before. It's definitely not my favorite of the franchise, but it's a definite number two. The amazing well-designed practical effects and sets, the iconic music and characters, and a story taken right out of the best of the classic serials of the 1930s and 40s make Raiders of the Lost Ark easily among the greatest blockbusters of all time.

VISUALS - 9/10

When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in June of 1981, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the rising New Gods of Hollywood. Between George Lucas' magnum-opus money-maker that was Star Wars and Spielberg's reputation born through Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws, a collaboration between the two was a match guaranteed to be an incredible hit.

Image result for raiders of the lost ark face melt
So a lot of money was thrown into the Indiana Jones project and HOLY SHIT! does it show. The sets and settings of the film are absolutely extraordinary. The production traveled all the way to Tunisia for the desert sequences, even getting the entire crew (minus Spielberg) sick with Montezuma's Revenge in order to acquire the best possible visual aesthetic.

I have watched countless documentaries on the making of this film and seen videos about everything from the staging of fights to the creation of the face melting scene, easily one of the coolest practical effects in any film. The effect was performed by Chris Walas, a special make-up effects artist, and it was one of Spielberg's favorite and easily mine as well. I would love to make movies of my own someday and this effect is one I would love to try and replicate. It's just that good and iconic.

I love watching this movie and even if the film is not my favorite narrative-wise, visually this film is the best in the franchise. Perfectly utilizing the practical effects and choreography to deliver a film that is simultaneously a nod to the classic adventure serials and its own unique evolution on the action-adventure formula.


I don't really know what I can say about the soundtrack that can't be better expressed by simply listening to it. It's the soundtrack to an Indiana Jones film.

The first one at that, so everything in this film set the stage for the rest of the franchise. Which isn't surprising when you consider the music was done by John Williams. I have literally gushed about John Williams every time that he has been mentioned and for damn good reason.

He is one of the best film composers that has ever lived and if you have watched any iconic 80s or 90s film, you have likely heard his work. And the soundtrack to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is absolutely no different.

If I had to pick a favorite piece, it would definitely be Indiana Jones theme itself. It is just as iconic as the Star Wars and Jurassic Park themes. When you hear it, you immediately recognize it. And the entire soundtrack maintains that sense of adventure, discovery, and wonder. Mixed in with a healthy amount of humor and danger. Each and every piece brings its own sense of wonder that completely distinguishes it from each other, yet still manages to maintain a collective identity.

The music and sound of Raiders of the Lost Ark is, in short, a sheer wonder. Nothing quite sounds like an Indiana Jones movie. The film fully commits to the serial inspiration with exaggerated fighting sounds and punches, mixed with wild hyjinks for which sound and music only heighten the experience. This film wouldn't be half as good as it is without its iconic audio identity and I think the best way to elaborate on these points is to simply let you listen to the music for have at it.


Raiders of the Lost Ark has a star-studded cast that is just dripping with charisma, humor, and pathos. Indiana Jones has entered into the highest pantheons of iconic 80s characters, right up their Freddy Krueger and Rocky. And so much of that is the result of a stellar performance by Harrison Ford. Hired by Lucas' after his history-making performance as Han Solo, this is the role that really made Ford's career; ultimately resulting in his hire for the role of Decker in Blade Runner and cementing his status as an iconic actor.

Ford's incredible work created a character that balances out epic action, with good humor and a genuine vulnerability. Indiana Jones isn't like many action movie characters from the 80s. Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Ford comes off as unfailingly human in his performance, allowing a genuine sense of sensitivity to color his every interaction. Couple this with genuinely hilarious moments, such as the "sword fight sequence", balanced out with intelligently choreographed and epic fight sequences, and the real strength of this film, that being the character of Indiana Jones, becomes incredibly clear to see.

Image result for indiana jones and marion ravenwood
Now this is just hilarious.
But an action movie such as Raiders of the Lost Ark wouldn't be nearly as successful without an equally strong supporting cast. Karen Allen's performance as Indiana's romantic lead, Marion Ravenwood, inter-cuts unflinching strength with a compassionate gentleness that immediately attracts the audience to her. While she, admittedly, doesn't play as much of a role in the film as future leading ladies, she is incredibly fun in her interactions with both the heroes and the villains.

And what a great set of villains. Sure, the use of the Nazis as a faceless evil enemy are fairly commonplace, Indiana Jones uses the historical baddies to excellent effect. After all, you don't have to justify why they are the bad guys.

Being a Nazi automatically makes you a bad guy.

To provide a bit of nuance to the antagonists, as Nazis are about as shallow as one can get, the film introduces to the character of Belloc, a Belgian treasure hunter who is Indiana Jones' primary rival. He's collaborating with the Nazis but has his own motivations for retrieving the ark that make him surprisingly complex as far as serial villains is concerned.

All in all, the cast is an absolute blast and easily among the best in the franchise, although I do tend to prefer the cast of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade more.

STORY - 9/10

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were, as stated several times throughout this review, heavily inspired by the adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s. However in many ways, the character and adventures of Indiana Jones can trace their origins to characters as varied as Alan Quartermain and James Bond.

In that manner, the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a mix of classic Victorian adventure and political espionage and intrigue. The overall impetus for the adventure is a race against the clock between the forces of good (the Allies) and the villainous Nazis. Their is a minor degree of political and religious subtext throughout the film. No where is this more present than in the ever secular Indiana Jones and his rivalry with the selfishly zealous Belloc. Their feud underlies the philosophical argument at the heart of the Ark and it is ultimately their position with regards to the Ark that ironically ensures its survival.

Image result for indiana jones and belloc
While there are some people who will criticize the story based on the joke stated in "The Big Bang Theory", that being that Indiana Jones plays no substantive role in the overarching narrative of the film, I feel that this position seriously undercuts the subtextual element that Indiana Jones brings to the film and the race for the Ark. As well as allowing the audience to witness the world that Jones provides us, which is one hell of  a good one.

The story of Raiders is an extraordinarily well-crafted one. Beautifully timed with action set pieces used sparingly and to great effect, the film moves along at a masterfully steady pace that builds consistently. It really shows the strength of Lucas and Spielberg's ability to collaborate and bring out the best in each other. Lucas has a tendency to be a bit much in terms of story and especially dialog, but Spielberg's influence seems to temper that tremendously into a tight script which balances humor, romance, and drama in any scene nearly flawlessly.

Raiders of the Lost Ark really is, in my opinion, among the best films that either Lucas and Spielberg have ever been a part of and the sheer wild ride of a story plays a massive role in that.


I absolutely adore the Indiana Jones franchise and will happily sing its praises whenever the mood or situation strikes and Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the best crafted film in the franchise, even if I can't quite say its my favorite.

The beautifully designed visuals and effects, iconic soundtrack and characters, and a tight and subtextually significant story that hearkens back to the golden age of adventure serials ranks Raiders among not only the best films in Spielberg and Lucas' illustrious careers, but in all film history in general.

And it is only the first in a masterfully crafted (mostly) franchise. While we will cover the rest of the franchise in the coming weeks, next week I will take a look at a recently released film.

One significantly more controversial due, in no small part, to some very early issues with its visual effects. Specifically in terms of the CGI of its main character.

This ought to be fun!

  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10
  • 9/10


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